Proving Your Worth: The Character Test Required for U.S. Citizenship
A key requirement for obtaining U.S. citizenship through naturalization is proof of good moral character. As you might expect, this is a watery category subject open to interpretation based on individual circumstances. For this reason, there are no clearly-defined qualifying characteristics; however, certain specific behaviors are understood as disqualifying. On Friday, December 13 the the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued an update to its policy manual that provides an extended list of which activities might be considered disqualifying evidence of poor moral character.
It used to be that the USCIS did not provide extensive information on unlawful acts. With the specification of 15 additional examples in the manual, this has changed. Beyond well-known disqualifying transgressions such as an aggravated felony, drunk driving, illegal gambling, prostitution and lying to get immigration benefits, the following may now block your path to U.S. citizenship:
Conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance
Failure to file or pay taxes
False claim to U.S. citizenship
Falsification of records
Obstruction of justice
Social Security fraud
Unlawful registration to vote
Violation of a U.S. embargo
Should you happen to be guilty of any of the above transgressions and anticipate applying for U.S. citizenship in the foreseeable future, it is essential that you consult an experienced immigration attorney now. In many cases, there are steps you can take to improve your moral standing in the eyes of the authorities but rarely is this a quick process.
A caveat to the above is that there are instances in which aiming to demonstrate good moral character can jeopardize your immigration prospects. It is not uncommon for individuals seeking legal status in the U.S. to compile a file showing personal accomplishments or moral character. Surprisingly, in certain instances this can sink your case. If you are attempting to show substantial mental abuse in order to obtain a U visa, for instance, a file full of outstanding accomplishments might raise questions. Likewise, if you are seeking asylum status but failed to file within a year of arriving to the U.S., underscoring other activities, no matter their character, may be damaging.
Because of the subjective nature of proving good moral character, expert advice is paramount. While many people in your community may have navigated this process, none have seen as many cases as an experienced immigration attorney. When pursuing one of the most consequential applications of your life, it helps to have experience on your side!
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